Blake Lively Needs to Get Woke—and Fast
The actress-lifestyle guru’s week of blissful ignorance at Cannes is only the tip of the iceberg.
Blake Lively, creator of arguably one of our most tone-deaf failed celebrity lifestyle brands, is having a rough time at Cannes.
The actress’s French flirtation started out OK, when Lively appeared on the red carpet for her new movie, Woody Allen’s Café Society, doing what she does best: wearing a “stunning, body-hugging” gown, accessorized with “a soft, wavy hairstyle and silver sandals.” The dress framed Lively’s barely-there baby bump, reminding us all that Blake Lively has been inseminated by her husband Ryan Reynolds not just once, but twice. Unfortunately, a curling iron doesn’t do much in the way of drawing attention away from Lively’s real problem areas: her total lack of sensitivity and penchant for unsavory sound bites.
At a Cannes roundtable, Lively displayed a raw talent for totally missing the point. She refused to comment on Ronan Farrow’s incendiary Hollywood Reporter essay on Woody Allen, claiming that she hadn’t read it. Unable to weigh in on that controversy, Lively made her first mistake of the festival, insisting that “My experience with Woody Allen is that he’s empowering to women.”
Now, Lively obviously isn’t the only celebrity defending Allen by steering hard-hitting questions toward new, inoffensive narratives. Lively is a woman whose career has been helped by Woody Allen. Like countless other female ingénues before her, Allen’s decision to cast Lively as an object of neurotic male obsession has given her the status and legitimacy of being one of Woody’s girls. But to confuse this personal, professional boon with a larger practice of female empowerment is bullshit by any definition of empowerment (or bullshit, for that matter). Allen almost exclusively “empowers” thin, beautiful, white women—the recipients of what societal standards deem a genetic lottery. He then proceeds to put them in roles that do little to undermine Hollywood’s established standard for two-dimensional female characters that pale in comparison to their complicated, finely drawn male counterparts (usually played by Allen himself).
On top of her fantastical re-imagining of Woody Allen as a pro-female force, Lively’s use of the term “empowerment” cuts deep. Unintentionally, Lively has aggravated the very topic she was trying so sincerely to avoid: the sexual abuse allegations that have clung to Allen for decades.
Allen stands accused of sexually inappropriate behavior toward his daughter, Dylan Farrow. While the famous director was never prosecuted for his crimes, the allegations resurface occasionally, tarnishing his legacy and plaguing press events (albeit, as Ronan Farrow convincingly argued, not as often as they should). According to Farrow, Allen abused his paternal power to harm a child. Even worse, he attempted to discredit and silence that very same daughter, ostensibly using all of the power at his disposal to tell the world to un-hear and delegitimize an alleged survivor.
Not exactly the qualifications we look for in a female empower-er of the year.
Interestingly enough, Lively has been getting a lot more flak for what seems like a relatively minor gaffe. In a Cannes Instagram, the actress collaged a red carpet look from the back and the front, captioning with a Sir Mix-a-Lot quote: “L.A. face with an Oakland booty.” Lively’s first mistake was reaching back into her mediocre hip-hop vinyl collection and settling on Sir Mix-a-Lot… if she had just cribbed a Drake quote like every other white girl in America, we wouldn’t even be having this conversation.
The star immediately came under fire for her insensitive usage of a racially charged lyric that casts white beauty and class (Los Angeles) in opposition to the raw sexuality of women of color (Oakland). According to critics, Lively’s appropriation of the track mimics her apparent appropriation of a non-white standard of beauty—proudly claiming a black ass, without any attempt to understand the layers of sexual commodification and racial tension at the heart of the lyric. Sir Mix-a-Lot, on the other hand, defended the use of his lyric.
Of course, Lively’s ill-informed caption would never have struck a chord without her history of racial insensitivity.
Back in 2014, Lively was deep in her yearlong stint at her lifestyle website, Preserve. When launching a celebrity lifestyle website, your only real aim should be to appear less out of touch with reality than Gwyneth Paltrow. Lively famously fell short of that mark when she published a spread titled, “Allure of Antebellum”—a visual celebration of the pre-Civil War South featuring an ecstatic white woman and a complete lack of awareness. An accompanying blurb included such obtuse observations as, “The term ‘Southern Belle’ came to fruition during the Antebellum period (prior to the Civil War), acknowledging women with an inherent social distinction who set the standards for style and appearance. These women epitomized Southern hospitality with a cultivation of beauty and grace, but even more with a captivating and magnetic sensibility. While at times depicted as coy, these belles of the ball, in actuality could command attention with the ease of a hummingbird relishing a pastoral bloom.”
In their quest for the least effective metaphors of all time, the writers and editors of Preserve just up and forgot to mention slavery. Sure, we all love wide-brimmed hats, but no one likes a white lady who spends all of her time planning elaborate romanticizations of the Antebellum, featuring and feting the faces and silhouettes of the slave owners.
Lively followed up this performance of white idiocy with an unrequested encore: an offensive blueberry muffin recipe. Quoth Preserve, “The blues began in the deep South, as a means to voice injustice and hardship in the African American community... But it’s more than music... Blue looks good on you, baby. And it tastes good, too. Cozy up with our Best of the Blues playlist and indulge in another distinctly American tradition: A blueberry muffin recipe that offers a sweet escape and a cheesy twist. Ain’t nobody’s business if you do.” WTF, dude.
Oh, and if you were worried that Lively’s love of plantations and complete lack of racial awareness were just for show, don’t be. In 2012, Lively actually married her husband Ryan Reynolds at Boone Hall, a real-life plantation near Charleston, South Carolina, complete with nine original slave cabins lovingly known as “Slave Street.”
Blake Lively, everyone: vindicating a generation’s worth of Blairs who always hated Serena anyway.